What I'm Into (November Edition)
The Art of the Long Goodbye

Memories and The Lost Art of Mixing

When I think of Grandma Petit, I think of chicken noodle soup, coffee cake, cream cheese jello, and a big open table ready for whomever might stop by. When I think of Grandma Kramer, I remember grilled cheese sandwiches with muenster cheese and Christmas plates. When I think of Aunt Sue, I think of stuffed mushrooms and Oberweis ice cream treats in the summer.

We have powerful associations with food. Who made it, who gave us the recipe, special occasions, what happened the night we first tried this or that. Food can be a source of connection and comfort. There's a reason so many of our socializing occurs in the context of eating.

The first Christmas after Grandma died, Uncle Terry and Aunt Sue hosted our family at the farm. A change of venue, a tweaked menu. Even the gift exchange was different, all in the hope that the glaring omission from our gathering wouldn't be as obvious.

That year Aunt Sue made Baked Spaghetti. While we normally had a few main dishes and several sides, we'd never served a pasta dish before. But I fell in love with the recipe and asked her to give it to me. The next time she saw me, she handed over the paper copy with my name printed neatly at the top. We discussed the changes she made and I promised to make it soon.

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I've made it a few times over the years since, a lovely comforting dish and great for a crowd. A few weeks ago, I felt the need to make one of Aunt Sue's recipes. A way of feeling close to her, a way of remembering.

I pulled out the Baked Spaghetti recipe and looked at what I had on hand. No cream of mushroom soup for the creamy topping but I did have milk and butter...what about bechamel sauce?

This is how I cook. Taking inspiration from the recipe, seeing what ingredients I have, and mixing it up accordingly. The bechamel turned out perfectly and it was a divine addition to the recipe. I won't be using cream of mushroom soup from here on out.

As I ate, I wondered what Aunt Sue would have thought about this tweak. And then, because I'm a book nerd, I thought about how chef Lillian would have understood my need for an old standby and she definitely would have approved of the bechamel sauce.

***

Lost Art of MixingWhen TLC Book Tours approached me about reviewing Erica Bauermeister's latest book, I couldn't say yes fast enough. Bauermeister's books, fiction centered on cooking, have been on my To Read list for ages and I was sorry I hadn't yet read them. The fact that TLC Book Tours would send me the new book, as well as its predecessor The School of Essential Ingredients, made me feel like Christmas came early this year.

 

{Here I must note how much I drooled while reading the food descriptions in Essential Ingredients. I absolutely plan on trying some of the recipes woven into the tale.}

In The Lost Art of Mixing, we catch up with a few of the cooking class members from Essential Ingredients and meet a few new characters, all somehow connected to Lillian and her restaurant. This follow up has less emphasis on food, though it still plays a lovely role, and more on memory. The way food evokes memories, the way memories can be fleeting and fickle, the way memories can heal.

As in Essential Ingredients, we see the story through a different character's eyes each chapter. Despite the differing viewpoints, the plot flows fluidly and I enjoyed seeing what characters thought about each other and how their interests overlapped. Or in some cases, how what they didn't know led to the wrong conclusions.

What is especially unique about the Lost Art of Mixing is a storyline involving one character's increasing dementia and how people respond to her memory loss. To see how she responds to her fading memory and envisions how it will only get worse was quite moving. To see the sights, smells, and sounds that still captivate her was poignant.

By the end of the book, I'd grown to see these characters as friends. I rooted for them and wanted to hear more of their stories. I hope Bauermeister will grace us with another follow up someday.

Note: The Lost Art of Mixing will be available January 24. Depending on the level of interest (hint, hint), I'll give a copy away at that time. Trust me. These are books you want to read.

What food-related memories do you have?

Disclosure: I received free copies of The School of Essential Ingredients and The Lost Art of Mixing from TLC Book Tours with no expectation I would provide a positive review. The thoughts, opinions, and reactions are entirely my own.

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